Palliative Surgery

In addition to diagnostic, primary surgery, and preventive surgeries, surgical procedures are also performed to improve the patient's quality of life. It can restore the function, reduce cancer burden, reduce pain by alleviating an obstruction and reduce symptoms.

Cancer causes pain to most cancer patients as does the treatment. It is estimated that 80% of cancer patients have two or more episodes of pain. More patients experience pain with advanced disease. The quality of life of those patients in great pain, resulting from either the disease or the treatment, is greatly compromised. Under such circumstances, palliative surgery may be performed. For example, the procedure may involve the removal of a painful primary or metastatic tumor mass such as a solitary spinal metastasis.

The purpose of palliative surgery is mainly to reduce pain and/or other symptoms (e.g., debulking to relieve bowel compression in a patient with ovarian cancer) for the patient. The surgery may not eradicate cancer tissue in the patient. In fact, palliative surgery is often deemed as worthwhile and feasible by cancer specialists when the disease is not responsive to any type of curative treatment. A successful palliative surgery may make the patient's life more comfortable, and prolong the cancer patient's life. Palliative surgery which removes cancer tissue is recorded as cancer-directed surgery. Palliative surgery such as a nerve block procedure to interrupt pain signals in the nervous system, or a stent placement to alleviate obstruction, etc., which does not remove cancer tissue is not recorded as cancer-directed surgery.

A cancer registrar should record palliative procedures as non-cancer directed surgery in the cancer abstract.

Updated: December 21, 2023